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SoundCloud works best if you treat it like Tumblr

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SoundCloud is confusing. There’s a lot to look at, it’s hard to know where to click, and the search function out-and-out sucks. I love it, though, because that’s where the new-new is: the mixtapes, the experimental tracks, the self-released. I am an enthusiastic user of the streaming service, which you already know if you heard Jake Kastrenakes and I passionately disagree on last week’s Vergecast. But I get it: navigating SoundCloud makes you feel old and bad the same way navigating Snapchat makes you feel old and bad.

Luckily, I excel at both and am also a giving person, so today I share with you my secret to getting something out of SoundCloud. Treat it like Tumblr.

What makes Tumblr fun is who you follow

What makes Tumblr fun, even useful, is who you follow: friends, celebrities, artists, writers, #brands, whatever you’re in to. When you get to your dashboard, it’s an endless scroll of things that people you’ve vetted are in to. You’re bound to be in to some of it, too: it’s a human algorithm called "taste."

Like building a rich, interesting Tumblr dash, it takes some research time to build and prune a rewarding SoundCloud follow list. I follow record labels that post their artists’ latest tracks, artists who repost their friends, and DJs who share mixes from clubs across the world. (And it’s not just indie bands or struggle rappers publishing to SoundCloud; you can certainly keep up with Interscope or Kanye West if you wish.)

To get you started, here are three follows I recommend:

  • October’s Very Own — Drake’s label, which is a great way to hear Views From the 6 sneaks as well as songs from Drake-approved artists like Partynextdoor ("Come and See Me" is all I listened to for one calendar week.)
  • A$AP Mob — At the very least, new songs every "Wavy Wednesday," from A$AP Rocky, A$AP Ferg, and associates.
  • Young Thug — Thugger regularly releases songs and entire mixtapes straight to SC

But these reflect my taste. To get the most out of SoundCloud, you should search for and follow your own favorite artists. Like Tumblr, the toughest part is priming the pump and filling your stream with the first crop of follows. From there, it gets easier as you follow people your favorite musicians and labels recommend, until one day you wake up listening to something called "Chanel - Rihanna (Shash’u Remix)" ‘cause it’s at the top of your feed.

Soundcloud is where you find the new-new

On my way to work, for another example, I listened to something iLoveMakonnen guests on from an artist I’ve never heard of because he reposted the song. It’s definitely getting me out of the music rut I was in, settling for a rotation Anti and my "You Wassap Girl" catch-all playlist on Spotify (I mean both are great but JFC, Fumo, how many times do you need to get emotional to "Needed Me" on the J train).

This version of discovery, the kind that isn’t predicted by code but instead organically delivered by people you think are cool, feels ripe for a moment then becomes bland thanks to too much regurgitation of our own likes and preferences.

The whole reason this came up is because SoundCloud now offers a $9.99 premium service called Go, without ads and with offline mode. But you don’t need to pay a cent to get a lot out of SoundCloud if you invest a little time.